As we begin a new year, it is the ideal season for us as a church to re-examine and determine our priorities. We find some guidance in Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica, a letter written to a growing group of Christians who were not so different from us. In this book, Paul outlines the character traits exemplified in his life and ministry while ministering in Thessalonica. In doing so, he sets forth four essential priorities for every church in every era. In fact, I suggest that we adopt these priorities as our own. As a church planting ministry in Thessalonica, undoubtedly a constant barrage of urgent needs pounded away at Paul’s mind, but in the midst of all that urgency, Paul’s priorities shine through.
Priority 1: Boldly proclaim Christ. Paul’s life and ministry were firmly fixed on the importance of sharing Christ with others, despite the opposition it brought (1 Thessalonians 2). He boldly proclaimed the truth of Christianity, knowing full well he would get pushback. How about you? Do you care more about keeping the peace than you do your friends’ eternal destiny? We need to summon a little courage. We need to cultivate some of Paul’s boldness. People’s eternal destinies are dependent upon it. Don’t allow the fear of rejection to keep you from sharing Christ with others. God is, even now, preparing the hearts of people around you to prepare to receive the gospel. But you won’t know who they are until you initiate a spiritual conversation with them.
Priority 2: Seek to please God. Paul wasn’t interested in winning a popularity contest; his chief aim in life was to please God (1 Thessalonians 4). If you “like to be liked” too much, you will never be greatly used by God. Whose disapproval do you fear the most, God’s or man’s? How you answer this question speaks volumes about your priorities.
Priority 3: Be authentic and compassionate. Paul was authentic. He was upfront and honest in his dealings with people. He had no hidden agenda. He didn’t use flattery to advance his career or his bank account. There are at least three aspects of personal authenticity:  To be truly authentic, you must be honest with yourself. It may mean that you stop pretending that your feelings haven’t been hurt when you know good and well that they have been. It may mean that you stop pretending that you are not angry when you know that you are.  Personal authenticity also involves being honest with others. Sometimes, being authentic requires that you have a difficult conversation with someone that you would rather not have. In this situation, if you do nothing, the relationship is going to be strained anyway. In fact, it will probably get worse. Sometimes, authenticity demands loving confrontation (Ephesians 4:29-31).  Authenticity requires being honest before others. An authentic Christian doesn’t pretend to have it all together. Let’s face it, God has set before us some pretty lofty standards. Authenticity demands that you not portray yourself as having attained some spiritual plane that you know you haven’t. As fellow travelers in the faith, we need to be honest with each other about our struggles. When we do that, two things will happen. First, you will probably discover that you are not the only one who struggles in a particular area of weakness. And second, by being vulnerable, you may well find someone who can come alongside you and help you grow in that area of weakness. We need each other. That is how God has designed the body of Christ.
Priority 4: Be a gracious person. We see evidence of Paul’s graciousness in verses 7 through 11. Paul deeply desired that God’s people live lives worthy of their calling…but he didn’t shame them into submission. He was gracious and patient with their failures (1 Thessalonians 7, 8, 11). There is a recurring criticism of Christians that we lack compassion. Sometimes, we are guilty of being more abrasive and judgmental than we are tactful and compassionate. Sometimes, church members feel more used than they do loved. They feel overworked and underappreciated. And that should never happen.
Let’s not be that kind of church. Let’s distinguish ourselves as Christ’s faithful followers by adopting these priorities that the Apostle Paul models for us. Lofty goals only become priorities when they are lived out. And that is the challenge before each of us in 2017. Let’s ask God to help us live out these priorities.
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Boldly speak for Christ, despite potential push-back.
- Seek to please God in all that we do.
- Live an authentic, compassionate life before God and others.
- Be gracious in your dealings with others.